Mile 79.5, LOFT MOUNTAIN DEVELOPMENT. Beside the Drive on the west side is Loft Mountain Wayside, open from early May to late October. It offers a telephone, food, souvenirs, water, and accessible restrooms. During summer the park operates an Information Center in the old gas station building. You can get information and backcountry permits here. (See below.) The rest of the Loft Mountain development is on Big Flat Mountain, a mile or more from the Drive via the paved road opposite the north end of the Wayside parking area. Facilities - normally open late May to late October - include a campground, amphitheater, campstore, accessible laundry and showers, and trailer sewage disposal. (See map MS-4, below.) During the summer season (mid-June to Labor Day) conducted hikes and campfire programs are given on weekends. Check the activity schedules posted on bulletin boards or the park visitor guide, Shenandoah Overlook.

Map MS-4 - Loft Mountain Area

Click here for a printable map

Loft Mountain Campground was built in 1964 on Big Flat Mountain. Loft Mountain itself is a mile and a half to the northeast; its name was taken for the campground because it sounds better than Big Flat. Origin of the name Loft is uncertain. Before the park was created, the tops of Big Flat and Loft Mountains, the saddle between them, and the ridge that goes west to Doyles River Gap were pastures with scattered apple trees. They were part of the extensive holdings of the Pattersons-absentee owners whose lands and cattle were cared for by the Frazier family.

HIKE HS-8: Frazier Discovery Trail. (From the Wayside.) Circuit 1.4 miles; pets are not permitted on this trail: total climb about 455 feet; time required 1:35. A self-guiding trail with a view. There is a box at the trail head where for a modest donation you can get a printed guide. The theme of the walk is succession: the gradual change from pastureland to mature forest. The trail begins at the edge of the Drive, 20 yards north of the road that goes uphill to the campground. (See Map MS-4.)

Zoomed View Of Rockytop
Photo taken by Larry W. Brown

A hundred yards from the Drive, the trail forks. Keep to the right; you will be returning down the left hand trail. Near the Loft Mountain summit, the Frazier Discovery Trail joins the AT. Turn left, and look for a side trail on the left. It goes 25 yards to a cliff with a view. To your left, you can see buildings in the campground on Big Flat Mountain. To the far right, on the east side of the Blue Ridge, is part of the Ivy Creek watershed. Straight ahead is the Big Run watershed. From the mouth of the hollow the Rockytop ridge rises to the left, and Brown Mountain, with cliffs and talus slopes, rises to the right. Farther right and nearer is Rocky Mountain.

Return to the AT and turn left. After 0.1 mile leave the AT and take the Frazier Discovery Trail to the left. Watch for a miniature natural amphitheater under an overhanging ledge. Except in dry weather water drips from the ledge, and there's a tiny pool of water at its base. A few yards beyond the amphitheater look for the remains of an old chestnut log to the left of the trail. If you look carefully at the far end of it, you can see a groove around it. This was the result of "deadening," in which trees were girdled to kill them, and thus let light reach the ground so that grass could grow. The circuit ends when you get back to the fork in the trail. Continue downhill to the Drive.
Hike HS-9: Loft Mountain Wayside to Loft Mountain Summit via AT. Circuit 2.7 miles; total climb about 570 feet; time required 2:25. Good views. From the north end of the Wayside parking area walk 150 yards north on Skyline Drive, then bear right onto a paved fire road.. (See Map MS-4.) At a junction 60 yards from the Drive, at a marker post, turn right and continue 0.3 mile to the PATC maintenance building which has a pit toilet and an unprotected spring. Continue about 0.1 mile downhill to the junction with the AT. Turn right uphill. The trail climbs Loft Mountain, swings to the right of its northeast summit, and then levels off. Where the trail swings right, watch for a ledge on the left with a view toward the Piedmont. To your left is Flattop, with clearings and a dirt road. County Line Mountain is right out in front of you. To the right is Fox Mountain with three peaks, a dip, and then two peaks more. Continue on the AT across a saddle to the southwest summit of Loft Mountain. At a concrete trail marker, the Frazier Discovery Trail joins from the right. After about a tenth of a mile, watch for a side trail on the right; it goes 25 yards to a cliff with a fine view (see the Frazier Discovery Trail, Hike HS-8). Return to the AT, turn right, and continue to the Frazier Discovery Trail junction. Turn right. Follow the Frazier Discovery Trail downhill to the Drive, where the Wayside is in sight to your left.
HIKE HS-10: Loft Mountain Summit from the Campstore. Round trip 3.5 miles; total climb about 515 feet; time required 2:50. Views. The hike starts from the campstore (see Map MS-4). At the bulletin board, as you face the store, turn right and walk to the edge of the lawn, where you have a fine view of the Piedmont. Take the trail that goes 100 yards downhill to the white-blazed AT, and turn left onto the AT The trail goes at first through former pastures that are now overgrown. Later you pass through clumps of black locusts, and then oaks.

The trail follows the right-hand side of the ridge where, in May, you can see the pale blue flowers of Phacelia. It passes through a small forest and then swings left and climbs to the crest, where the Frazier Discovery Trail joins from the left. Continue to a side trail on the left, which goes 25 yards to a viewpoint. (See the Frazier Discovery Trail, Hike HS-8). Return by the way you came.
HIKE HS-11: Big Flat Mountain Hike from Loft Mountain Amphitheater. Circuit 1.8 miles; total climb about 265 feet; time required 1:15. This is a rather easy counter clockwise circuit around the campground and picnic ground, with an outstanding view. This is a great hike for young children. You can start (and end) at any of several points. See Map MS-4. The following description starts at the amphitheater parking area.

Take the paved walk toward the amphitheater from the north (downhill) end of the parking area. At a junction 30 yards from the start, bear left, walk a quarter of a mile, mostly downhill, to the white-blazed AT, turn sharp left, uphill. The trail climbs steadily for 200 yards to a crest, where a side trail on the left goes 230 yards uphill to the campground at the parking area for some of the Loft Mountain Campground sites. To the right of the trail here, and at several points in the next three-tenths of a mile, are rocky ledges with worthwhile views. The sketch shows what you can see from the best of them.

Out in front and below is the Doyles River watershed. As you follow the course of Doyles River from right to left below you, note that there are two coves going up away to the right. The second and larger one, which comes in at the front of Cedar Mountain, is Jones Run. There are beautiful waterfalls on both the Doyles River Trail and the Jones Run Trail. With binoculars you can make out the antenna towers of the radio installation on Bucks Elbow Mountain. Most of Bear Den Mountain is hidden behind Calf Mountain, but with binoculars you can see an antenna tower on top of it. On a very clear day you can see mountains on the Blue Ridge Parkway, far to the south of Calf and Scott Mountains.

As you continue on the white blazed AT you'll see several trails that go uphill to the left, into the campground. Use any of them if you want to shorten the walk and return to your campsite. The last of these side trails is marked by a concrete post, not quite one mile from the start of the hike. This is a lovely area; the woods are open and carpeted with ferns. There are often deer here, going about their business unconcerned about visitors (but don't feed them). To complete the circuit, stay on the white-blazed AT for another 0.6 mile to a second concrete marker post. Turn left here. Climb the hill, pass the campstore, and then turn left onto the paved walk beside the campground road. Continue another 0.15 mile to your starting point.

View from AT near Loft Mountain Campground

HIKE HS-12: Loft Mountain Amphitheater to viewpoint on the AT. Round trip 1.5 miles; total climb about 260 feet; time required 1:15. The view is similar to that from the amphitheater, but it's a pleasant, easy walk. It starts from the amphitheater parking lot. See Map MS-4.

Take the paved walk toward the amphitheater from the north end of the parking area, and after 30 yards, bear left where the trail forks. After a quarter of a mile, the white-blazed AT joins from the left; continue ahead on the AT, through an overgrown area that was once a former pasture with apple trees here and there. From late April until September, you'll find a succession of wildflowers here. Three-tenths of a mile beyond the trail junction, a side trail on the right leads 50 feet to a fairly good viewpoint. Continue on the white-blazed AT for another 200 yards, to a big flat rock on the right. This is your destination.

Looking to your right from the rock you'll see a sharp crest on the main Blue Ridge, and under it a stretch of Skyline Drive south of Rockytop Overlook. A little to your left is Rocky Mountain. Still farther left is Brown Mountain.

Doyles River Cabin
Photo taken by Ryan Wick
MILE 81.1, DOYLES RIVER PARKING. AT access. Hikes. Doyles River Cabin. Doyles River Trail. There's a large parking area, just off the Drive on the east side. The Doyles River Trail goes downhill from the parking area, and crosses the AT after 50 yards. Distances on the AT: north (to the left) it's 1.1 miles to the Loft Mountain Amphitheater; continue straight ahead when the AT turns sharp right. South (to the right) it's 0.9 mile to Doyles River Overlook, mile 81.9.

Geology: (Rock lovers only.) Walk north (i.e. away from the overlook) beside the Drive to milepost 81. The rock exposed here is of the Weverton formation - with layers of phyllite, sandstone, and quartz gravel. The Weverton formation is younger than the Catoctin lavas, and should therefore lie above them. But in this area the contact has been overturned. The Catoctin formation is exposed beside the Drive a short distance to the north, and it forms the summits of Loft and Big Flat Mountains - high above you to the east. Continue north along the Drive for less than 200 yards, to a culvert and deep hole on the right. Continue another 50 yards to a rock exposure on the right. This is porphyritic Catoctin basalt. Porphyritic means that the purplish basalt contains crystals of feldspar; many of them are stained red. They're best seen about six feet above the road surface. Climb several feet up the bank for a close look.

Three hikes that start here at the parking area are described: first, a relatively easy round trip to the upper falls of Doyles River, Hike HS-13; second, a longer one-way hike past two waterfalls on Doyles River, and one on Jones Run to the Jones Run parking area at mile 84.1, Hike HS-14; finally, a circuit that goes to the Jones Run parking and returns to the starting point via the AT, Hike HS-15.  

HIKE HS-13: Doyles River Upper Falls. Round trip 2.7 miles; total climb about 850 feet; time required 2:45. A not-too-difficult hike to a small, but very pretty waterfall. See Map MS-5.

Upper Doyles Falls
Photo taken by Larry W. Brown

Take the Doyles River Trail downhill from the parking area. Cross the AT and descend rather steeply for 0.3 mile to an unprotected spring that flows from a pipe in a stone wall on the left. Do not use the water without effective treatment. Just beyond the spring, the trail forks. (The left fork climbs rather steeply for 400 feet to the locked Doyles River Cabin. To rent the cabin contact PATC.). Keep right, and continue about 0.6 mile to the Browns Gap fire road. (To the left, the road goes 1.4 miles to the park boundary, where it becomes SR 629. To the right it goes 1.7 miles to Browns Gap, at milepost 83.0 on the Drive.)

Cross the road and continue on the Doyles River Trail, which crosses the Doyles River after 250 yards. Go another 300 yards. Here, as the trail begins to turn right, the top of the falls is about 25 feet to your left; but you can't see the falls from the top. Follow the trail to the right, away from the falls. It swings left in a wide 180-degree curve to a low point with a marker post. The falls are in sight to your left, in a natural amphitheater, surrounded by giant trees. It's a beautiful thing to see, even (or maybe especially) in winter when it's frozen solid. Return back uphill the way you came.

Map MS-5 - Doyles River Area

Click here for a printable map

HIKE HS-14: Doyles River and Jones Run Trails. One way 4.8 miles; total climb about 1,410 feet; time required 4:35. A medium-difficult hike with three waterfalls. Since it's a one-way hike, you'll have to leave a car at the Jones Run parking area, mile 84.1, or have someone meet you there. See Map MS-5.

Lower Doyles Falls
Photo taken by Larry W. Brown

As above to the upper Doyles River falls. Continue downhill on the Doyles River Trail, through a narrow gorge with the stream downhill on your left, and sometimes pools and cascades worth looking at. The sides of the gorge rise steeply, and you pass some of the biggest trees in the park. The top of the lower falls is 0.3 mile from the concrete marker near the upper falls. A short side trail on the left goes to the top of the falls, but there's not much to see there.

Follow the trail to the right, away from the falls. After a hundred yards, look out for a big patch of poison ivy on the left in the summer, in all seasons continue fifty yards more and the trail takes a sharp switchback to the left on a slippery slanting rock. Then back through poison ivy and down to the base of the falls, mostly hidden by trees. Fifty yards farther, at a concrete marker, a very rough and rocky side trail on the left goes back to the base of the falls.

Doyles River Trail Scenery
Photo taken by Brent McGuirt

About 0.2 mile farther down the gorge cross a small stream, on a footbridge, with a cascade just to the right of the trail. From there it's 0.4 mile to a marker post at the low point of your hike. Here you take the Jones Run Trail, which swings right and starts uphill beside Jones Run. Where the trail crosses the stream, note the big sycamore 60 feet to your left. It shows how far down you've come; in Shenandoah, sycamores grow only at lower altitudes.

Continue past cascades that get bigger and more frequent as the trail gets steeper. This is a pleasant walk. In places the whole hillside to your left is terraced with ledges of rock covered with dripping mosses, ferns, and nettles. As you reach the top of a long, gliding cascade, you can see Jones Run Falls up ahead. A nearly vertical cliff blocks the gorge, and the stream plunges over it. The trail swings left to skirt the cliff, makes a sharp switchback, returns to the head of the falls, then turns sharply left, uphill.

Half a mile farther up the hollow, the trail joins an old road trace that comes in from the left. The trail crosses Jones Run and later swings left, away from the road trace. It reaches the white-blazed AT about half a mile beyond the stream crossing, and continues to the Jones Run parking area where hopefully you have your arranged transportation.
HIKE HS-15: Doyles River, Jones Run and AT. Circuit 7.8 miles; total climb about 1,825 feet; time required 7:00. A rewarding but fairly long and tiring hike with three waterfalls. See Map MS-5.

As above, but turn right onto the white-blazed AT just before you reach the Jones Run parking area. Walk three miles north on the AT, crossing the Drive twice, passing Browns Gap and Doyles River Overlook. Turn left at the concrete marker post when you reach the Doyles River Trail and go 50 yards uphill to the Doyles River parking area.

View from Big Run Overlook

MILE 81.2, BIG RUN OVERLOOK. Elevation 2,860 feet. Hikes. This is one of the most beautiful overlooks in the southern district of the park, with a deep wide view nicely framed by trees. The sketch shows the right-hand part of the view. To the left, outside the sketch, Rockytop ridge joins the main Blue Ridge. Near the right-hand edge of the sketch is Rocky Mountain, with cliffs and talus slopes of white Erwin quartzite. Farther right, outside the sketch, is Rocky Mount. Still farther right, and closer, you can see Brown Mountain Overlook.

Geology: Across the Drive is a small exposure of Weverton sandstone with veins of quartz pebbles.

Two hikes that go from the south end of the overlook into the head of Big Run are described - one a round trip and the other a somewhat longer circuit that returns via AT. (Park in the Doyles River parking area, 100 yards to the north.)  

Map MS-6 - Big Run Area

Click here for a printable map

HIKE HS-16: Head of Big Run. Round trip 4.4 miles; total climb about 1,250 feet; time required 4:00. An interesting walk on a good trail with a few steep parts. See Map MS-6.

The trail starts from the overlook and descends by switchbacks. After two- thirds of a mile it switches back sharply to the left and swings around a branch of Eppert Hollow. In the winter with the leaves off the trees, there are views across the hollow to Patterson Ridge, about a mile away, with parts of Brown Mountain and Rocky Mountain visible beyond it. The trail reaches a ridge crest at 1.2 miles, descends along the crest, and then levels off. (In spring, look for dwarf Iris here.) After a final switchback to the left the trail descends and crosses the stream. There are some very large trees; the forest is open and spacious. Explore at will, and then return the way you came.
HIKE HS-17: Big Run Loop Trail. AT Circuit 5.8 miles; total climb about 1,365 feet; time required 5:00. See Map MS-6.

As above, to the head of Big Run where the trail forks. The right hand fork continues down Big Run. Take the left hand fork and start climbing. After about 1.3 miles you reach a trail crossing on the ridge crest. (The trail ahead descends 0.3 mile to the Madison Run fire road. The Rockytop Trail, to the right, goes to the lower end of Big Run.) Turn left, the trail ascends to the crest of the Blue Ridge, and then descends briefly to the white-blazed AT. Turn left onto the AT and go 1.6 miles (crossing the Drive once and passing through Doyles River Overlook) to the marker at the junction with the Doyles River Trail. Turn left, go 200 feet to the Drive, then turn left again and walk 100 yards to your starting point at the Big Run Overlook.

Big Run Watershed Sign
Photo taken by Larry W. Brown

BIG RUN VALLEY is worth all the time you can give it. If you like wildlife or flowers, you'll find them here. Big Run has more water, and probably more fish, than any other stream in the park. (If you don't care for fishing, try fish watching.) There are more small lizards here than anywhere else in the park. The stream has pools deep enough and wide enough to swim in. In one of those pools, to the left of the road above the first ford, mallards often congregate.

If you have time, check with the rangers about regulations for backcountry camping. If current regulations permit, consider spending several days exploring the Big Run Valley.